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How will Climate Change Impact Michigan’s Fruit Orchards?

There has been a lot of discussion in recent years about how climate change in going to impact agriculture. The Midwest has been characterized by increasing average temperatures, earlier springs, and more frequent extreme precipitation events. For farmers, these changes will mean shifting growing seasons, flooded fields, and longer periods of drought.

While there has been a boom in climate and agriculture research in the past few years, most of it has focused on the annual crop industry, especially corn, wheat, and soy. However, perennial fruit crops are particularly important to Michigan’s agricultural economy and culture. Michigan produces a significant amount of tart and sweet cherries, apples, peaches, and blueberries. These fruits colorfully stock our farm stands and markets throughout the summer and fall months. As a Michigander from the western “fruit belt” region of the state, I took the availability of local fruit for granted until I started learning more about climate change impacts on agriculture. I really started to wonder: how will the unique complexities of growing perennial crops shape the impacts of climate change on Michigan’s fruit industry?

Perennial crops are uniquely vulnerable to climate change due to the long lives of the plants. Once growers plant perennial fruit trees, they have to sustain those trees for many years. In fact, some fruit orchards are in production for up to thirty years. This means that the climate conditions at the time of a tree’s planting may be very different from the climate conditions during their prime production years. Growers have to constantly adapt to these changing conditions in order to keep their trees healthy and resilient to future climate impacts.

In order to improve climate adaptation in orchards, there has to be an understanding of how growers perceive climate change risks and the barriers they face to adapt to these changes. Due to the lack of research on the subject, this is where I decided to focus my undergraduate thesis. I interviewed 16 fruit growers in Western Michigan to help me understand these issues. The goal: to find out what climate impacts growers perceived posed the greatest risks, and how they were adapting to these risks. I will share my findings to these questions in two more blog posts this summer. I’m excited to share what I’ve learned about the climate’s impact on our orchards here in Michigan, and I hope you follow along for future posts!

Julia Linder is the Communications & Events intern for Taste the Local Difference. Contact her at events@localdifference.org

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  in Climate Change, Environment, Get Involved, Julia Linder